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Record 10,000 addicts look for methadone treatment.

A Record 10,000 heroin addicts have sought methadone treatment in HSE centres across the country so far this year.

New figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal an alarming increase in the number of addicts in towns and cities across the country as seizures of heroin by gardai also soar to unprecedented levels.

Approximately 2,000 more people have sought help to beat their addiction to the deadly drug over the past four years alone.

And there has been a staggering 350pc increase in the number of people seeking treatment since 1995, when only 2,238 people subscribed to the methadone programme.

This year marked the first time the number of addicts passing through HSE programmes has surpassed the psychologically important 10,000 mark.

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The Irish Independent first reported last June that 9,757 addicts had passed through the HSE’s methadone maintenance programme in 2007. The numbers receiving treatment has inched forward since then, reaching 9,800 for the first nine months of this year before hitting the 10,000 mark.

So far this year, a total of 10,109 people sought treatment through the HSE’s programme and the latest figure is a rise from 8,155 people in treatment in 2003.

But the latest figures supplied only measure the number of people who received treatment until the end of November and the total number of addicts seeking treatment for the whole 12 months of 2008 is likely to be higher again.

And to cope with the increased demand from heroin addicts, the number of doctors and chemists participating in the programme has also increased steadily.

There are now 271 GPs and 493 pharmacists participating in the scheme, up from 227 GPs and 67 clinics participating in 2003.

This year has seen gardai seize a record amount of heroin from drug-trafficking gangs across the country, with the total seized for the year likely to breach the €40m mark. The total seized last year was €23.6m but a bumper opium crop in Afghanistan has seen large quantities available across the Irish market.

Just last week, gardai seized €6m of the drug which was being smuggled through Dublin Port in a cargo of flowers. Also this month, a bad batch of heroin was suspected to be the cause of a health scare amongst addicts.

The HSE is continuing to monitor heroin batches after a suspected outbreak of the disease botulism among users in Dublin.

One person died of the disease and a number of other suspected cases were identified over the last few weeks.

A batch of contaminated heroin is believed to have caused the outbreak. “I think that no matter what way you look at it, the number of people using methadone substitute is on the increase,” Labour’s drugs spokesperson Jack Wall said.

“There are now waiting lists in HSE centres in the south, midlands and north east. I think the only thing we can do is to educate people in the perils of using drugs.

“We should be proactive rather than reactive. One can see the problem day in and day out and it’s ongoing in towns and villages across the country.”

Source: Fiach Kelly, The Irish Independent, 24/12/2008

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